4.5 out of 5 Stars
Head, the debut album from Britain’s Thieves’ Kitchen, is in many respects a full-out foray directly into Gentle Giant territory, with a singer (Simon Boys) who even sounds remarkably like Derek Shulman from the mighty Gentle Giant itself.
Here, on the five tracks included, such as the sixteen-minute “Mute” and (especially) on the nineteen-minute “T.A.N.U.S,” it’s almost shocking how often the musicians and vocalist seem determined to get as close to the harder-edged sound of, for instance, In A Glass House or Three Friends. Even on the album’s three short tunes—ie. only Prog-Rock lovers can deem songs between seven and eleven minutes in length as being “short,” right?—the GG similarities are on full display. Yet please note, as on the epic tracks, the music on “Time,” “The Return of the Ultragravy,” and “Integrity” includes modernized instrumentation, certainly when it comes to the synths and the beefier guitar tones, therefore the band is by no means a direct GG rip-off, only that the GG comparisons are often striking. Nevertheless, despite the band’s influences, the material on Head is quite melodic and intricate, with grand song arrangements and orchestrations that feature altering tempos galore and expert musicianship at every turn, making for some savory Prog-Rock material and giving the band its own style.
Now, please note, if delving into this band’s back catalogue of releases, Head and the second album, 2001’s Argot, are quite similar in sound and scope. But in 2002, a second incarnation of the band began after Simon Boys left the group, only to be replaced by an impressive female vocalist named Amy Darby, which obviously altered the group’s overall sound. Nowadays, Thieves’ Kitchen no longer has many Gentle Giant influences, yet each new album since 2003’s Shibboleth is equally impressive with Ms. Darby behind the microphone.
Therefore, whatever the incarnation of the group, Thieves’ Kitchen is a band truly worthy of investigation for any Prog-Rock fanatic seeking intriguing music with elaborate arrangements and top-tier performances by all involved.